Military legend has it that Lt. Gen. Lewis "Chesty" Puller once said, "They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by an enemy that outnumbers us 29 to one. They can't get away from us now!" Other versions of the famous quote have been floating around for years, but all show that the U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant general went far beyond the "glass half full" philosophy of starry-eyed optimists. It was a call to action.
I imagine many vending and amusement operators might feel they are in old Chesty's position these days. Competition is fierce and coming in from all directions. Even more, the competition that operators face is asymmetrical. Operators are not only competing against each other, but they are also facing a headwind of new, low-cost entertainment. Unlike Chesty, however, music and games vendors in particular are not fighting a battle; they are waging a war.
One aspect of this war is the number of entertainment options that has arrived in the past two decades. Games, movies and music -- to name a few -- are not only readily available and highly portable, but are stunningly inexpensive, entirely free or available on a "freemium" basis. This has made the operator's demographic target -- those pesky, persnickety and much-touted millennials -- highly discriminating and increasingly segmented consumers of entertainment.
The situation is not likely to improve anytime soon. For many operators, particularly those over the ripe old age of 50, smartphones are the enemy. Those increasingly powerful pocket computers masquerading as phones offer music, games and instant information regarding other potentially more desirable nearby locations. Not long ago, a veteran operator recently related a story of how a family entertainment center manager was struggling to keep young employees off their phones during work hours. (The horror!) The smart alternative would be to encourage employees with downtime to act as the unofficial social media team by offering some reasonable incentives.
What is essential to understand is that a significant portion of coin-op's target demographic was born into the age of Moore's Law -- a fairly accurate 1960s-era prediction by Gordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, that computing power would double every two years or so. By extension, so would the applications those increasingly powerful computers would run. The benefits of Moore's Law bubbled quietly year after year in business and industry, before breaking out in a big way into the consumer market with laptops, iPods, tablets and cellphones over the past decade and a half.
Today, as much as anything, these rapidly evolving technologies define the millennial generation. With technology the central fact of their lives, is it any wonder it has become a lifestyle benchmark? The Moore's Law Generation expects constant and continuous change to arrive on schedule in areas far afield from technology -- fashion, music, careers and relationships, for instance. Just as meaningful, there is the expectation of near real-time access online to everything from the red carpet movie premieres in Hollywood to music festivals in Ibiza.
This attitude is not likely to abate. If some of the so-called "olds" are mystified by the reliance on cellphones by 20-somethings, they should take a good look at tweens. This is the generation that has never known life without Facebook, text messaging or just the right emoji. At a recent birthday party for a 10 year old, I witnessed half the pint-size guests, along with their parents, snapping pictures and recording Vine snippets of the clown and cake with their phones for online posting.
In thinking about this generation, it might be wise to remember that "what's new?" is not a question. It is not even a demand. It's a not unreasonable assumption that there is always something new.